Progress From Beginner to Advanced Lower Body Exercises

Determined, muscular young woman doing squats with dumbbells in gym
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This lower body progression workout shows some examples of how to progress from beginner exercises to moves that are a little more advanced.

You'll know you're ready to move on to the next progression once you've mastered the move and can easily perform 2-3 sets of up to 16 reps with perfect form.  Use good form and see your doctor if you have any injuries or medical conditions.

Build Your Lower Body Workout

There are many ways you can use this chart to create your own lower body workout:

  • Option 1: Pick a column doing them one after the other circuit-style for 8-16 reps, repeating that circuit 1-3 times.
  • Option 2: Pick a column and do each exercise shown for straight sets, 1-3 sets of 10-16 reps with 30-60 seconds of rest in between.
  • Option 3: Mix and match from several columns - e.g., ball squats, assisted lunges, dumbbell deadlifts, etc.- and choose either circuit style or straight sets 
Beginner Intermediate Advanced
Chair Squat For beginners, the chair or assisted squat is a great place to start when getting used to squats. Take the feet about hip distance apart and squat, taking the hips back while keeping the torso straight and the abs engaged. Ball Squat The ball can add great back support, but it can also add intensity because it allows you to squat lower. Keep the weight in the heels and hold weights for more intensity. Weighted Squat Take the ball away and add heavy weights and you now have to use your own strength and muscle to keep good form.
Assisted Lunges Lunges are a tough but excellent exercise because they work multiple muscles. Assisted lunges allow you to hold onto a wall for balance as you lunge up and down. Be sure to lunge straight down rather than forward, which can strain the knees. Static Lunges This more advanced version takes the chair away, forcing you to use your own muscles to stay balanced as you lunge. Adding weights will really increase the intensity. Walking Lunges Your next progressions are these walking lunges. Now you're going the lunge forward alternating legs so that hit every muscle in the lower body. Add weights for more intensity.
Hip Hinge Deadlifts are often hard to master, which is why I love the hip hinge. Use a broomstick and keep it in contact with your head and lower back as you hinge forward at the hips, knees just slightly bent the entire time. Dumbbell Deadlifts If you've perfected the hip hinge, adding weights is the next progression, which will really challenge your core, as well as your glutes, hamstrings and lower back. Single Leg Deadlifts Taking one foot behind you and keeping all your weight on the front leg will make this exercise even harder. Anytime you do something on one leg instead of two you'll be adding intensity.
Leg Lifts The side leg lift is a classic exercise that targets the glutes. It can be done on mat to make it comfortable on the hips Weighted Leg Lifts The weighted leg lift is harder because you add resistance and intensity by using ankle weights. Leg Lifts with Pause This version is deceptively hard because you hold the legs in the lifted position for one breathe before lowering the legs.
Inner-Thigh Ball Squeeze This move is already pretty challenging, taking the ball up and squeezing it, only releasing about halfway. If this is too hard, keep the legs on the floor and lean back on your elbows. Squat and Squeeze
Now we've taken the ball squeeze and changed it up a bit, making the ball a medicine ball and incorporating it into a squat, making this an even more intense exercise.
Squat With Inner Thigh Leg Lift This becomes a compound move once you add a squat to the mix, making this a great lower body exercise that works multiple muscles. The resistance band really adds intensity.
Leg Press If you don't have a leg press machine, this is one version you can do at home using a heavy band or tube. Just hold the handles and press the leg up and out. Single Leg Press Instead of using both legs, use just one leg at a time. Push through the heels instead of the toes using light weight. Single Leg Press Challenge yourself with more weight for a single leg press. Do a set on one leg then switch legs and repeat.

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."